Posts Tagged ‘memories’

blue stone in water

blue stone in water in black bowl

One night a year or so ago, I entered my childhood home and walked into the kitchen.  The light was low and the air was warm.  I sat at the table with my mother, feeling welcomed as always.  Just as I did when I returned home from college, I began to tell her the stories of my daily life, the ups, the downs and all that lay in between.  I told her about the people I cared about and worried about.  I opened up a bit more than usual and began to share mistakes made and the opportunities I saw on the horizon.  I explained how I felt older, not sure about wiser,  but at least tempered by life and was looking forward to trying to apply some of the lessons learned.

blue stone in water, branches reflected

blue stone in water, branches reflected

She listened attentively, as she had always done, and on occasion, she smiled as I described some silliness of mine.  As I paused to take a deep breath, I admired how wonderful she looked, the smoothness of her caramel skin, the fullness of her brown hair reaching her proud shoulders, the strength in her arms, and the brightness of her eyes.  She was the strong woman of my youth, not the more fragile woman of my adulthood.  And yet I sat before her as an adult.

blue stone in water and branches reflected, in motion

blue stone in water and branches reflected, tilting the bowl

Still trying to catch my breath, I managed to say, “Ma, I’ve been telling you stuff that happened after you died, haven’t I?” She nodded. We stood and she pulled me into her arms.  She felt soft and warm and held me tight.  “That’s right, baby,” she said. ” And you’ve got a lot more stuff to do.  My time has passed but this isn’t your time.”  I woke up gasping for breath … which is what I had needed to do since I’d been having trouble breathing in my sleep.

rocks in water

rocks in water

I have not visited my mother’s grave, or my father’s, in well over a decade.  My main memories of the site are actually based on the stories my brother told of walking through the area with flower seeds in his pocket and letting them fall when the caretaker wasn’t looking.  I don’t know if those flowers ever bloomed but I feel like I carry them with me wherever I go, just as I carry my mother.  Or perhaps, she still carries me.

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I remember a furry little friend discovering my tealight candles.  She turned around and tried to pretend she hadn’t been poking her face where she shouldn’t but somehow the scorched whiskers gave her away.

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To celebrate Chinese New Year, a friend shared a fresh pineapple.  As I photographed the tasty remains, golden memories surfaced.

Cans of fruit cocktail mixed with jello.  That’s my earliest memory of pineapple.  My mom always poured the jello into a lovely crystal bowl.  One of those bowls that only came out of the cabinet at special times of the year and which we children were forbidden to touch.  It was usually strawberry or cherry jello and so the gold of the pineapple chunks would always stand out magnificently in contrast.  My first fresh pineapple I tasted when an aunt from up north came to visit for a week or so down south.  My younger brother and I watched enrapt as she took our father’s butcher knife and sliced open that fresh pineapple.  She then scooped out the innards, coarsely chopped them and then mixed with some fresh strawberries, a mixture that she then put back into the basket of the pineapple rind.  What a magical event for us.

Nearly two decades later, while traveling in Krabi, Thailand, I sat on a stone wall by the beach digging my toes into the sand.  A wizened little lady came up to me.  She carried a big stick and from the stick hung plastic bags filled with fresh cut pineapple.  I’d been warned to be cautious of purchasing certain food items from street vendors.  But I didn’t want to be rude.  We couldn’t speak the same language but she made clear the price.  Not much in American dollars.  Plus she handed me a sample to taste.  She had small fingers, work-worn, that reminded me of my mother’s.  I bought a whole bag.  Even if the fruit hadn’t been good (though it was), her smile would have been worth the purchase.

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That was my first reprimand at my first paying job as a 15 year old in Lynchburg, Virginia.  I believe it was in summer at McDonald’s near the public library.  The manager had placed me at a register and was watching me from the lobby.  I had learned the manual well of the various phrases from “Welcome to McDonald’s. How may I help you?” to “Would you like some fries with that?” and so on.  I was a bit perplexed by the smile comment but I gave it go on the next orders throughout the day.  It was midweek and during a block of time when mostly older folk would come in and buy a cup of coffee or tea.  And what happened near the end of my shift?  Well, as I took a silver-haired lady’s two dollars and gave her some change back, she took my hand, patted it and said, “My dear, you have a lovely smile.  You have a good day.”  And I said, “You too, ma’am.  See you tomorrow.”  What brings to mind this memory of making people feel welcome?  There’s been an interesting series of articles in the New York Times about people, especially seniors, sitting too long in the fast food restaurant.  As with any story, there are many ways to dissect the issues but I think this morning’s article about “lessons learned” from the recent clash presents some good food for thought, not about how a business should be run but more about how over time people operate in the world: The Urban Home Away From Home.

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Today I made my annual donation to one of the nonprofits I support, WalkBoston.  As a card carrying pedestrian (and dreamer), believe me, I need help crossing the road.  I made the donation in memory of my Aunt Thelma who used to describe her walks to me.  Following is a blog post I wrote about her two years ago, about how she influenced who I am today, including how I can choose to give myself to others.  This bright, beautiful day is her birthday so it seems like a good time to give back, and give thanks for her having been in the world.  At the end of the post is a youtube video of Dives and Lazarus by composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.  It was music Steve had shared with me, and music I remember replaying until I could collect the words to write about a lovely woman who in her own unique way helped me learn to walk in this world.  Please enjoy the words and the music, and have a good day.



My mother taught me to cook, to plant flowers, and to tell stories.  From her I learned to love books and to love writing.  She passed away before I ever wrote and had published my first story.  During her life, I never traveled abroad.  She never knew me with a camera in my hand.  She never met Steve or any other fellow in my life.  But her sister, my Aunt Thelma did.

In Aunt Thelma’s bedroom dresser are the postcards I sent to her from my travels all over the world.  On her bookshelves are the magazines and other clippings of my work.  And, last year, after I returned from my travels with Steve in Japan, she made me create a photo book for her.  “I need tangibles I can hold in my hand,” she said when I pointed out the pictures were viewable online.  “And include a picture of that fellow you’re seeing.  I don’t know if I’ll ever see him any other way.”  They never did meet, but she read about him, and they spoke on the phone once.  I sat next to her on her couch as she laughed with him on my cell phone.  I remember him asking her what he should call her.  She laughed and said, “Well, why you don’t call me what everyone calls me.  Aunt Thelma.”  After she hung up, she asked me if he was a good man.  I said yes.  And then we went on to talk about my brothers and their families.

Growing up in Virginia, my mother made it clear early in my life if I was ever in trouble I could call my Aunt Thelma who was living in New York.  When my mother died, Aunt Thelma traveled to Virginia and was there with me and my brothers, along with the rest of the family.  When my father died unexpectedly a year and half later, she couldn’t make it, but I will always remember standing in a hospital waiting room on the phone with her crying and her saying over and over, “You go ahead and cry.  It’s alright to cry.”

In bad times but mostly good, I called her, especially after I got a cell phone.  I could call her randomly as I returned home from work.  She’d laugh at my stories and in the end, wind up telling me to be careful as I crossed the street.  She always ended her calls with, “I love you, Cynthia.”

My Aunt Thelma passed away this weekend.  I will miss her.  I am thankful that she was in my life.  I learned a lot.  In NY this weekend, as the family gathered, I held one of my young cousins in my arms.  She was crying.  “I’m sorry,” she said as she tried to wipe her face.  I said, “Why are you apologizing? For crying? Don’t ever apologize for crying.  It’s alright to cry.  Do you know who taught me that?” When she shook her head, I said, “Aunt Thelma.”

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I did not think the petunias would grow indoors.  I thought they’d bloom for a short while and then fade away, but somehow they have lasted the summer and now bloom confidently into the fall.

They have outlasted the basil, thyme and mints.

They soak up the sun near the hardier herbs – the oregano, sage and rosemary.  The plant’s white flowers shade the poinsettia that is still bright green and the stellar red garden mum, a hostess gift still hanging on.

I think I have tried to grow petunias indoors before with little luck.  They are a complex flower for me, not my favorite and yet I can’t help but think of them as my mother’s plant.

She grew them in wooden boxes and converted tires that my father made and arranged in the yard for her.  We shall see if this plant thrives into the winter months.  Not to rush time, but I can’t wait to see the white blooms against the window with snow falling down.

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I can be a bit slow.  It took me well over a year to visit and then participate in Cowbird.  A friend had suggested I check out the site as a new creative outlet.   I’m glad she did.  It is a community of storytellers.  I’ve posted a few stories — really a collection of simple words, rather stream of conscious, like diamonds in the rough or perhaps just gravel, but words I do not wish to lose.  I am honored to have had one such collection featured today:  plums.  If you haven’t already, please check out the site.  A source of lovely words and images.

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Steve has a ritual.  When he buys chicken or steak at the grocery store, he returns home to immediately separate the meat into smaller portions, prepares a marinade of red wine, soy sauce, garlic and black pepper that he then pours over the meat which he then freezes.  And that’s what happened yesterday.  After a short hike in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, we stopped by the grocery store on the way home.  As he was about to prepare the meat, he shouted, “Wait! I have to wash the frog off my hands first.”  Why would he shout such a thing?  Well, because he was helping me corral frogs in the Fells.  Not to keep for cooking or anything, just to photograph for Melissa.

Melissa loves frogs.  For years, I’ve sent her all things frog related.  Stickers, stamps, charms, etc.  Rarely photographs. Though I’m glad frogs are in the world, normally I don’t feel a need to get close to them and rarely have I had an opportunity to photograph them like this weekend.  They were popping up everywhere!  As Steve and I chased the little critters around the woods, I kept telling him, “I’m doing this for Melissa. Only for Melissa would I be getting this close to this creature.”  But when I spoke with Melissa this morning she reminded me that I apparently sparked her interest in frogs in college over twenty years ago.

“It’s true,” she said.  “We were walking from Central Campus to the Quad, cutting through Duke Gardens.  It was summertime and I remarked about the sound of the loudest crickets I’d ever heard in my life.  You told me those weren’t crickets but frogs singing.  Then you pointed them out to me, sitting by the edge of the pond.  And then you went off on this lovely discourse about frogs, why they’re important in the world and how through song they were trying to  … you know … get together and make babies. I’ve loved frogs ever since.”

Steve did manage to pick up this fellow and hold him in the palm of his hands, and thus the need to wash the frog off his hands.  I don’t know if there will be anymore impromptu frog photography shoots, but I will try to remember to step more carefully through the Fells and I will treasure a lost memory regained.

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I have learned that my brother and I have been independently dreaming of front porches.  We live in homes now that have porches of a sort but not the porch of our childhood.  Each of us is feeling that call that comes at this time of year to make ready the porch.  Paint and put out the chairs.  Hope the maple tree next door will provide enough shade.  Try to grow some potted plants.  And so on.  In honor of those memories, I share this link to an essay I wrote not long after moving up north from down south:   Sitting on the Front Porch.

By the way, when I wrote this essay, my brother still lived in the house.  He now rents it to an older lady who likes to grow tomato plants in all available space including along the front porch.  And the elderly lady who appears near the end of the essay is still alive.  I visited her during a trip back to Virginia.  She was very welcoming from her front porch and even took us inside to sit for a bit where her children had to remind her at some point, “Mama, you are 99 not 89.”  Her response was “Is that right?”  And so it goes. 😉

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This is why I like having family fact checkers.  After a friend recently gave me a grapefruit, I simply remembered that my mother used to love that fruit.  When I called my brother, he was able to add, “Yep.  That’s right.  She used to gum ’em.”

You see she had false teeth that she only wore for school meetings or doctor visits.  At home there was no need for pretense.  Gum the fruit, she may have, but she also had lovely serrated spoons made special for scooping out grapefruit pulp.  According to my brother, the whole family ate the sour fruit and with lots and lots of sugar.  He said that he and I shared a single fruit. When most of the pulp was gone, we would try to squeeze the last remnants of juice into a glass.

“So we shared?” I said with a smile.  He agreed, and then added, “Unless you made me mad.  Then I’d put dogfood in the glass.”  It’s those little details … 😉

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